Economic Crisis And Racism Haunt Arizona Immigration Debate

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Economic Crisis And Racism Haunt Arizona Immigration Debate


Paul Jay, is CEO and Senior Editor of The Real News Network. He currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Prior to TRNN, Jay was for ten seasons the creator and Executive Producer of CBC Newsworld's flagship debate programs, CounterSpin and FaceOff.

Jay has produced and directed more than 20 major documentary films including "Return to Kandahar", "Lost in Las Vegas" and "Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows", a feature length documentary, that was screened in 25 major festivals and won more than a dozen awards. It's been called "one of the most acclaimed Canadian films in years" (Eye Magazine), "A tale as bizarre as Kafka and as tragic as Shakespeare" (Ottawa Citizen) and "one of the best films of 1998" (Peter Plagens, art critic for Newsweek).

A past chair of the Documentary Organization of Canada, Jay is the founding chair of Hot Docs!, the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival.

July 30 2010

On Wednesday, a last-second injunction from Judge Susan Bolton temporarily stopped the most aggressive provisions of state bill SB1070 from going into effect. This is the Arizona law that will target undocumented immigrants. In particular, the judge struck down the section that compels police officers to demand identification from anyone they stop whom they suspect of being in the country without papers. Arizona's state government has announced it will appeal Bolton's decision.

As the economic crisis deepens, the question of who’s to blame comes to the fore. We have all seen how desperate times feeds hate filled ideology. The battle in Arizona is one front that will define whether the next decade will be one of seeking new models and solutions, or be a repeat of the darkest days of the twentieth century. 

Jesse Freeston is in Arizona reporting for The Real News and he writes that while the rhetoric is about crime and drugs, the economic crisis is what's really at the centre of the debate. Here’s part of Jesse’s report.

"This is an invasion." Says Judy Hoelscher, co-founder of the Cave Creek Patriots Tea Party Posse, one of numerous citizen groups that have formed under the Arizona Tea Party banner over recent months. Hoelscher is a firm supporter of the controversial SB1070 immigration law.

"We simply cannot afford illegal immigration," explains Hoelscher. "We're suffering from the crime wave, the drugs that are coming across, murders, rapes, and kidnappings." There's no question that Mexico-based drug cartels are operating in Arizona, often violently. However, the ease with which SB1070 supporters link them to undocumented workers is troublesome. The crime wave that Hoelscher refers to is difficult to substantiate when Department of Justice statistics show that the violent crime rate has dropped by 23% over the past ten years. Over that same decade, Department of Homeland Security statistics estimate that the population of undocumented immigrants in Arizona roughly doubled.

Public figures like Arizona governor Jan Brewer haven't helped to clarify any of these errors. Brewer has said that "the majority" of those that cross the border undocumented are carrying drugs. Meanwhile, the Tucson Border Patrol reports that less than 1% of those apprehended without documents are charged with drug offenses. (View article here)  "What that's called is a lie," says Carlos Alvarez of Phoenix's ANSWER Coalition. "She's also said that they've found headless bodies, which we know they have not." ( View article here )

But why lie?

"[The statements are] meant to terrorize the undocumented community and turn the white community against the undocumented workers." Alvarez believes it's all part of an electoral strategy based on hate mongering. "Arizona is the state with the most active white supremacist groups in the nation. It's a very real social relationship that people have to racism." 

Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris, who opposes SB1070, told the LA Times that "all you have to do in Arizona is come out with anything that's anti-immigrant and you will be in good shape in the polls." 

The night before the injunction was passed, I was at a meeting of the Sun City Tea Party. As the meeting came to a close, I struggled to find anyone amongst the all-white crowd who appeared to be of working age. Hoelscher was one of only a handful that fit the profile. She's a seamstress by trade who has been unable to find steady employment for the last few years. She says that undocumented workers have lowered the wages in Arizona, and rendered employment in sectors like hers all but impossible. I can see the concern in her eyes as she routinely shifts her gaze from me to her young daughter, who is waiting patiently to go home.

If it's about wages, I ask, then why not support legalization? Wouldn't the accompanying labor protections force the wages up?

"Real unemployment is at 18% here, and growing," she explains. "To have to compete for that few jobs? Millions and millions of more people for that few jobs? We need to take care of our own. America's citizens first and not the rest of the world's third world citizens."

For Monica Ruiz, who traveled from New York City to be a part of the actions in Arizona, the jobs argument is a dangerous misconception that is taking hold at a national level. She tells me that workers both take and create jobs by spending their earnings. So, she explains, there's no such thing as a fixed number of jobs because growth through immigration is the history of the United States. "[This is the] hysteria they've created around the country, where even liberals are saying 'well, we really have an immigration problem.'" Her voice deepens and her pace slows while she takes on her 'liberal persona' before returning to her original, determined rhythm. "The only reason this is an issue today is because there is a downturn in the economy and somebody has to be blamed."

"It's easier to direct the attention of the vast majority of middle-class people, who are losing more than anybody else right now, to direct their hatred and their anger toward the ones that have the least . . . rather than directing people to look up, making sure they look down.”

You can watch Jesse’s report  “Illegal invasion or economic scapegoat”  later this morning at 

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